Young voters share their expectations ahead of South African elections

After three decades of democracy under the rule of the African National Congress Party, South Africans are preparing to head to the polls to elect a new president. In an interview with eNCA news, some young influential people on social media shared their expectations for the upcoming polls and their aspirations for their country. 

According to Reuters, 14,889 candidates, nominated by 70 political parties, will contest 887 seats in the forthcoming election. For the first time, voters will receive three ballots instead of two on voting day. The first ballot will be used to elect the 200 members of the national assembly which is only contested by political parties. The second ballot will be used for electing the remaining 200 members of the assembly, with both political parties and independent candidates competing across all nine provinces. The third ballot will be used to elect members of the provincial legislatures, with political parties and independent candidates contesting as well.

Political analyst Musa Mdunge told Africanews, “South Africans are likely to not give the ANC overwhelming support as they have done in previous elections since 1994.”

The country is grappling with numerous challenges including economic inequality, joblessness, poverty, and inadequate service provision, which have further deepened the socio-economic divide within the nation. The World Bank projects a slight increase in South Africa's economy, with growth anticipated to reach 3.8 percent and further strengthen to 4.1 percent by 2025.

According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), there are approximately 27.79 million registered voters, of whom over 15 million are female, representing over 55 percent of the electorate. Notably, the youth demographic, aged between 18 and 39, constitutes 42 percent (11.7 million) of registered voters, underscoring the significance of their vote for political parties in the upcoming May 29 elections.

In response to why they will be voting in the upcoming election, Nonhlanhla Siwela, a medical student, said, “I think as young people, we have the prerogative role to take an active step towards our future and that means exercising our right to vote. And if you think historically, people have literally died for us to be able to have this right. And so taking voting for granted is essentially taking your future for granted.”

Ewan Dawkins, SoWeVote‘s director of politics added, “I think it is time for the youth to start taking an active role in politics.”

While these young voters are eager to exercise their votes, they raised several concerns which could deter other eligible young people from participating in the upcoming elections.

One of the concerns raised was about the lack of representation of young people in South African politics. 

“It is very difficult for us to relate because we don’t see ourselves reflected. The people who are speaking for us are mostly 40 and above. It is difficult to find youth speaking to youth who have power to make change, as well,” Qhawekazi Mazaleni, a speech therapist, explained. 

Sera Farista, an activist, added, “We are the largest voting demographic and are not represented in these polls.”

Some argued that political positions are being controlled, denying young people access, and that, as such, there should be an age limit of at most 55 for political leadership positions. Others, however, did not think age really mattered. 

Aside from the issue of representation, almost all the interviewees said none of the parties’ manifestos resonated with them. 

“This is going to be our most influential election since 1994. If we look at 30 years ago, our elders and our parents all had a sense of hope instilled in them that voting was going to change the trajectory of South Africa, moving it towards a democracy from an apartheid state. I cannot name a single leader today who instills that same hope. While there are many parties who have very good manifestoes, those manifestos are not reflected in reality,” Farista said.

Nonhlanhla Siwela agreed, “I think a lot of leadership, in general, do not have humanity in mind, which is why we are seeing so much injustice. We need leaders who bring back that humanity and are really for the people.”

In response to what they will be seeking in considering political parties, Siwela said, “I am going to be looking for someone who does work on the ground. Someone who has actions to back what's on your manifesto. I am looking to see which party has been showing us; particularly, I look for economic progression.”

Farista said she will be looking for “a more intersectional approach” to solving social injustices: “Instead of looking at things in isolation, such as high crime rates, gender-based violence, climate injustices, social injustices, and sexism, I will be looking to find a political party that is socialist in its manifesto and is able to cover all of those things in an interconnected manner.”

Ewan Dawkins said he will scrutinize the manifestos of the various parties: “I would be looking for the inconsistencies in these manifestos because this serves to demonstrate that these parties aren’t actually planning to be in power. For instance, when we look at uMkhonto weSizwe’s manifesto, they said they were going to provide free education by giving everyone access to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). NSFAS is a loan, it is not free education. When I see a lot of contradictions with some parties’ manifestos, it tells me these guys are not serious.”

During the conversation with eNCA news, these young voters expressed their desire for improved leadership for their country, leaders who prioritize accountability and address pressing issues like corruption by implementing effective checks and balances in their policies.

Looking beyond the May 29 elections, they hope that the elected leaders will spearhead positive changes in South Africa. This includes the enhancement of healthcare systems, the creation of more employment opportunities, ensuring a safe and clean environment, and the establishment of sufficient and efficient educational systems.

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